International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi’s planned visit to the Zaporizhia NPP (ZNPP) is facing delays. Grossi is leading the rotation of mission inspectors to the plant. He tweeted on 13 June: “On my way to Ukraine to meet President Zelenskyy & present a programme of assistance in the aftermath of the catastrophic Nova Kakhovka dam flooding. I will assess the situation at Zaporizhia nuclear power plant & conduct a rotation of ISAMZ with a strengthened team.”
At a press conference in Kyiv after his talks with Zelensky, he told reporters he planned to depart immediately for ZNPP. However, Russian representative to international organisations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov said in his Telegram channel on 14 June that Grossi’s visit to the plant “has been postponed for some time to give the Ukrainian side additional time to better prepare for the safe rotation of the IAEA personnel at ZNPP". The Advisor to the General Director of the Rosenergoatom Concern Renat Karchaa told reporters that Grossi would probably arrive at the plant on 15 June.
Since Russia took control of ZNPP in March 2022 as part of its special military operation in Ukraine, the Russian national guard has been protecting the station and in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree formally transferring ZNPP to Russian jurisdiction under nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom). A Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise. Zaporizhia NPP was established by Rosenergoatom to operate the plant. However, Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom still claims ownership of the plant. IAEA has had experts permanent stationed at the plant – the Support & Assistance Mission to Zaporizhia (ISAMZ).
Reports by Russian military analysts suggest that retaking control of ZNPP is one of the objectives of the coming Ukrainian counter-offensive. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has repeatedly downed power lines vital to cooling the reactors, which are shut down but which need a constant supply of electricity to keep the nuclear fuel inside cool and prevent a possible meltdown. Russia and Ukraine have also accused each other of destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam which has put at risk cooling water for the six ZNPP reactors.
As well as assessing the situation at the plant following the dam collapse. Grossi’s visit to ZNPP is also intended to assess compliance with the five basic principles he established to protect the plant which he unveiled at the United Nations Security Council on 30 May. These are that there should be no attack from or against the plant. In addition, the plant should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons and off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk.
Before he left Vienna, Grossi expressed some concern about continuing to fall in water levels following the dam collapse and some discrepancy in reports on the extent of the fall measured at ZNPP and at the nearby Zaporizhia thermal power plant (ZTPP). “We will only be able to know when we gain access to the thermal power plant,” he said.
At the current height of the reservoir by the ZTPP, the water pumps continue to be operable, IAEA said. At the moment, however, they are not continuously being operated as both the ZTPP channel and the large cooling pond near the ZNPP are full, holding sufficient water reserves for several months of cooling requirements. “The ZNPP cooling pond and the ZTPP discharge channel are both integral to continuing to supply cooling water and … maintaining their integrity is vital for the safety of the plant.”
At his press conference in Kyiv, he said water levels were falling steadily “and there is a limit after which we would not be able to pump water to the reservoir and channels which would mean we would be left with only the water we have inside [the plant site].” While this is not an immediate danger “it is a serious situation because you are limited to the water you have there”. He continued: “ If there was a break in the gates that contain the water or anything like that you would lose all your cooling capacity….This is why I want to make my own assessment. I want to go there and discuss with the management there what measures they are taking and then make a more definitive assessment.”
He was asked about reports that Ukraine’s nuclear utility Energoatom had said they were going to put unit 5 of the plant into cold shutdown. He replied: “Let me correct what you said. This is what Ukraine would like to do. But, as you know, Ukraine is not in control of the NPP – this is what they would do if they were in control. This is another issue to discuss there because of the six reactors, five are in cold shutdown operating at a very low regime. One is in hot shutdown operating at a slightly higher level to produce steam which is needed to perform some safety functions.”
Grossi commented that this was a discrepancy. “Yet again another unwanted situation deriving from the anomalous situation at the plant. We are going to assess the situation and make a recommendation.”
Asked if he was concerned about the military situation he said: “ Of course I am very concerned…. Quite close to the plant there is active combat so we are worried that there could be [a hit].Obviously, mathematically there is the possibility of a hit – we had those without a counteroffensive, so even more so now with all the conflict in the area this could happen.”
Grossi, asked about Russian military activity at the plant, replied: “I have to say we haven’t seen any heavy military equipment there”. He noted that one of his five basic principles “is that there shouldn’t be any military equipment or artillery or ammunition in amounts that would compromise the security of the plant”. He added: “I will be touring the site and getting a better opinion. We do not have any indication at this point but it cannot be excluded so we need to see and remain vigilant.”
Grossi said he was enlarging his team “to make the IAEA presence as visible and impactful as possible”. He stressed that “we have to talk with both sides and I will be going to Russia…in the next few days.” Asked whether sanctions should be imposed on Rosatom, Grossi said “the IAEA is not a sanctioning organisation.”
Image: IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at a recent press conference in Kyiv (courtesy of IAEA)